The last thing I expected when I met Adam Carolla was for his management team to be worried about what he said. Carolla’s lengthy career as a media personality has been built upon a reputation of being an unhinged humorist willing to berate anyone or break into a long-winded, rage-fueled rant about life’s most minor annoyances at any given moment.
He hung up on Ann Coulter and called her a “bitch” on-air because she called in late to his Los Angeles-based radio show in 2006. He routinely criticizes the Los Angeles Police Department, proclaiming it an institution filled with “coward assholes” that “rape” taxpayers with unnecessary citations. Most recently, he berated his personal assistant on an episode of his self-titled podcast for bringing in the wrong kind of donuts.
But on Dec. 3, Carolla, a man known for tackling any trivial or taboo subject, was advised by his publicist to avoid a particular conversation topic.
Earlier in the week, conservative media personality Glenn Beck began using Carolla’s rant about Occupy Wall Street as fodder for his own revulsion of the movement and the protesters perpetuating it. The clip had since gone viral and quickly became one of the most popular stories to ever run on Beck’s website.
And this has put Carolla’s team in an unfamiliar position: discomfort.
Carolla didn’t want (or need) Beck to bring attention to his statements. But once again, he found himself misunderstood and as a result, the recipient of undue attention.
I met Carolla between his live performances at the Park West auditorium in Chicago’s North Side Lincoln Park neighborhood.
The interview was not even supposed to occur. During the days prior, Carolla’s publicist told me I wasn’t allowed to ask Carolla any questions. (Apparently, a man who hosts a 90-minute daily podcast needs someone to monitor his speech when he leaves the broadcast booth.)
I showed up anyway. Carolla graciously let me into the green room and immediately offered me a beer. Throughout the 25-minute interview, he signed more than a dozen assorted items for fans and posed for a picture without ever breaking his train of thought.
In person, Carolla’s on-air vitriol completely faded away, and what was left was an affable neighbor inviting me in to talk football over a few drinks..
It’s this dichotomy between on-air persona and real-life demeanor that has resulted in Carolla being one of the most consistently misunderstood figures in all of media. And nothing illustrates this better than his statements being co-opted by Glenn Beck.
Carolla—a former blue collar craftsman with anti-establishment tendencies—would never support a wealthy, conservative extremist like Beck, and Beck—a Mormon who routinely blends religion and politics—would be appalled by Carolla’s outspoken atheism.
After a friendly discussion about how being a long snapper is an important yet thankless part of football, Carolla defied his publicist’s wishes and addressed his unwanted association with right-wing talking heads.
“I don’t want to be lumped in with some up-tight Republican guy who hates hard-working people and hippies,” Carolla said. “I’m all for, ‘Stick it to the man.’ I fucking hate the man.”
Surprisingly, Carolla agrees with the Occupy Wall Street complaint that there are inherent inequities in the American economic system. His disagreement with the movement hast to do with how a person should approach being a member of the 99 percent.
“I am just saying, for better or for worse that exists. And my message is, you got a family, you got kids, you got two legs, you got two arms and hands, just get to work. Don’t worry about what the government is going to do for you, because they’re not going to do anything for you and if they do anything for you, they’re going to fuck it up,” he said.
Carolla doesn’t oppose the Occupy Wall Street protesters as venomously as his now infamous rant made it seem. Unfortunately, his nuanced sociopolitical views were once again reduced to a singular sound bite that has garnered him unwelcome publicity.
However, the misinterpretation is not entirely the fault of casual listeners like Beck.
Carolla is a man of libertarian politics and consistently delivers his well-developed life philosophy which advocates self-reliance, hard work and humility via his daily podcast. But this message is presented amid a non-stop series of profanity, angry tirades and poignant jokes and can therefore be easily lost.
For those unfamiliar with his style, determining if Carolla is being serious versus trying to get a laugh has proven to be confusing. As a result, he has been labeled a misogynist, a racist, an insensitive asshole and now, a champion of the religious right.
On the other hand, there is the ever-growing group of Carolla loyalists who have eagerly consumed his content as he moved from television to film to radio to podcasting to literature. To his followers, the difference between his weighty political statements and his attempts at humor are obvious and need not be explained.
An hour after we finished speaking, Carolla took the stage for a show that should not be called stand-up comedy (despite the fact that he was standing and being funny).
Carolla’s live performance was a unique blend of joke telling, PowerPoint slide show and improv. The intermission featured a sound clip of him speaking with Bryan Cranston (of “Breaking Bad” fame) from a recent podcast with accompanying animation. Collectively, the performance spoke to his ability to remain relative despite constantly changing mediums.
But even among fans, Carolla’s words were misconstrued. When he asked the crowd to give him holiday-themed subjects for his running “What Can’t Adam Complain About?” segment—where people challenge him to find negative things to say about certain topics—someone promptly responded, “Retards,” much to Carolla’s chagrin. He did turn the comment into a hilarious bit about how having retarded children is the perfect excuse to get out of anything, however.
And although a champion for respecting others, he was heckled several times throughout the show by a young, drunk white-collar man. (I use the term “white-collar” literally in this sense. The man was wearing a blue shirt with a white collar.)
Carolla closed his show by projecting his Social Security statement on the wall and going over his taxable income year by year, starting with his first year after high school. It was then that the life experience behind his philosophy of determination and independence became apparent.
As his Social Security statement showed, Carolla spent his 20s working construction and earning modest pay. On several occasions, he recorded zero taxable income because he spent the years working cash-only jobs.
But all the while, Carolla maintained a dream that he would get into show business. And through the strength of his will, he eventually made that happen. Yearly incomes went from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands and then millions. He credited this all to his unwillingness to accept a life he knew he didn’t want, and instead creating for himself the one he’d always envisioned.
I have listened and watched Adam Carolla for more than half of my young life, and one common thread throughout those 12 years has been his worry that my generation was coddled and would one day become a group of self-entitled adults who think success should be given to them rather than earned. Occupy Wall Street is the unfortunate proof that his prophetic belief has been realized, he said.
Carolla doesn’t hate the Occupy Wall Street movement for being unhappy with bankers who greedily took advantage of a deregulated financial structure. He hates that those participating would rather complain about it than make personal improvements.
Carolla said that despite changing his act each time he performs, he almost always concludes with the Social Security statement presentation because it’s inspirational and resonates with his audiences. He wants the crowd—and his listeners, viewers and readers—to take after him and actively pursue their dream career, rather than simply think or talk about it.
Hopefully they don’t misunderstand the message.
Adam Carolla is the host of the “The Adam Carolla Show” podcast which can be found on iTunes and his website AdamCarolla.com. He is also a contestant on the upcoming season of “The Celebrity Apprentice” starting Feb. 18 at 9 p.m. EDT on NBC.
On Jan. 17, Carolla made an appearance on the Glenn Beck Program to discuss his new book “Rich Man, Poor Man.” So apparently he doesn’t mind being associated with up-tight Republican guys when he’s trying to promote his literature.